While some of the stories in A Story to Tell are more difficult to fully relate to, although we do have a choice whether or not to learn from all of them, the story of Martha and Mary at home is probably the most ordinary, domestic incident to be found in the Gospels.
We’ve all been there, haven’t we, either as guest or in receiving guests. Some people sit chatting away, while others… well, you know how it is.
Please read Luke 10:38-42
Are you like Martha? Or are you like Mary?
Many people would say they want to be more like Mary – taking time to sit and listen to Jesus, to talk to him, to spend time with him, to get to know him. To give Jesus intentional attention. And yet, most of us probably feel much more comfortable being like Martha – being busy, doing things, being distracted, giving ourselves a sense of purpose, playing a role.
It’s often the case that when someone comes around for a meal one person looks after the cooking while someone else talks to the guest. And this happens here – Martha, in whose house this takes place, carries on getting everything ready while her younger sister, Mary, sits with Jesus, their guest.
Yet, in the heat of the kitchen, Martha is getting more and more uptight. ‘Oh no, the guests are waiting, the veg are ready but the fish isn’t… and there’s Mary, my sister, not helping at all… she’s just sat there talking to him.’ Martha’s angry and stressed. She needs help and the others are ignoring her.
One can imagine her storming out: ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ And bear in mind, we don’t know what else was said either! (This isn’t the only time when Jesus has incurred Martha’s anger, by the way. When their brother Lazarus was dying, she sent for Jesus and made it quite clear how unhappy she was that he hadn’t come sooner – see John 11:21.)
Like Martha, we are often concerned about so much and worried and upset about many things – lots of them quite understandable. But let’s not forget Mary either. Maybe she is also in need of someone to help her: perhaps through her conversation she is wanting and receiving help. There was a reason why Mary needed to talk with Jesus.
This incident is one that challenges us to consider our priorities. Busyness will often crowd out God and it crowds out other people too. It distracts us from being with God and being with others. It distracts from spending time talking, listening and praying. Yet that very busyness, those tasks which need to be done, is also important. Without paying attention to those things, God’s work in our day to day lives would not be carried out. But how do we achieve the balance?
The events in Martha’s home help us to think about meeting God in the ordinary. And yet there is that very human inclination to ‘just do’ something else before we spend time in prayer and Bible reading. How do we have fulfilling and blessed times talking and listening to God when we too are ‘distracted by so many things’?
Whether we are like Mary, sat at the feet of Jesus, or like Martha, carrying out the ordinary tasks of life, God is present in all things and at all times so we can be in his presence in all things and at all times.
God cannot do the extraordinary things in life without the ordinary things in life.
In what ways do you see God in all things?
When you’re ready, move on to Part 2 of this story.